Mission: Impossible: Season Three
One of the great things about being a teenaged boy in the early to mid sixties was the fascination the entertainment industry had with spies. The James Bond franchise was just beginning, Derek Flint was on the big screen and television was a wonderland of espionage agents. You could hardly turn the channel selector without coming across ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘Wild, Wild West’ or ‘Honey West’. One of the staples of Sunday night was ‘Mission: Impossible’. Decades before Tom Cruise took over the franchise we watched in awe as a team of specialists saved America from the dangerous plots in foreign countries. We would sit there entranced from the moment we saw that hand light the fuse and the famous theme song from Lalo Schifrin began. For the next hour we were transported to the international and dangerous world of the spy. For a boy entering those teen years there was nothing better than a spy. They always had the greatest gadgets to foil the evil doers. They had fast cars, traveled around the world and no bad guy could intimidate them. They also always got the girl. ‘Mission: Impossible’ was a weekly dose of this excitement and just couldn’t be missed. Paramount is now up to the DVD release of the third season of this memorable series. Once again they bring a little portion of our youth back. If you think of the Tom Cruise flick when you hear the phrase ‘Mission: Impossible" get this set and watch it with your parents. Sure the movies are exciting but this is what started them off. As a television series the stories still hold up amazingly well. While most of the ‘Iron Curtain’ references are dated the thrills and suspense is timeless.
Almost every episode started off with one of the strictest formulas in television history. It was also one of the best known and most parodied. At the start of the episode the head of the IMF (Impossible Missions Force), Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) would go to some public place such as a coffee shop or a park. There he would exchange some strange phrases with an apparent stranger. They would guide him to the location of a hidden tape recorder. Yes kids, this was long before CDs. Once there he would play the tape and examine the packet of photos attached. A mysterious voice (actually Bob Johnson) would outline the mission and give him the option of refusing it with the phrase "Your mission, should you decide to accept it" The voice would then warn him that if any member of his team was captured or killed the secretary would disavow any knowledge of their existence. The voice then told Phelps that the recording will self destruct in five seconds and then smoke would come out of the recorder. Phelps would then retire to his faboulous apartment (I guess heading the IMF pays pretty well), and go through a stack of photos with the possible agents at his disposal. In this season a few guest stars where chosen but usually the key team was selected. This team consisted of former actress and socialite Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), master of all things electronics Barney Collier (Greg Morris), master of disguise, accents and slight of hand Roland Hand (Martin Landau) and former circus strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus). The group would then meet at Phelps’ place and go over the assignment.
What I remember so vividly from watching this series is even to my teenaged eyes some of the covers they had been a bit flimsy. It seems that all they have to do is dress Barney in some overalls with ‘GAZ KOMPANY’ on the back and they can infiltrate any top secrete location behind the Iron Curtain. With that said this team was the best con men in history. They didn’t just shoot someone they wanted out of the way they would make the target’s own people distrust him and do the dirty work for the IMF. The whole fun of the series was getting into the elaborate deception that they would pull off. Usually at the center of the fraud were the makeup skills of Roland. He was able to create latex masks of the target and impersonate them perfectly. The pay off at the end was when Roland would peal off the mask to reveal his own face, smile and the team was on their way home. If you needed a man distracted you could always count on Cinnamon to put on a slinky dress and vamp her way in. Barney was always stuck in some duct deep in the installation they were invading setting up diverted phone lines, playing with the power lines or making elevators go to the wrong floor. Willy was always available for the required heavy lifting while Phelps was out front working the scam.
While most of the time the IMF fought foreign adversaries sometimes they took on the Syndicate, a vague name for organized crime. Some of the best episodes were when the IMF had to duplicate a complete location. In one episode in this season the built a duplicate of a gas chamber to trick an assassin into divulging vital information. The look on the crook’s face when he realizes what just happened was priceless. Week after week this small group of American agents made complete fools out of the bad guys. They depended on the greed and lack of trust of their enemies and the evil doers never let them down. What worked so well in this series was the fact that the episodes were more like little films. The stories were always true to the formula but still remained fresh.
This cast worked extremely well together. There was on screen chemistry that pulled the audience in. Of course Landau and Baines were man and wife back then and that helped. Peter Graves was the quiet mastermind who not only set things in motion but was an important part of the mission. Landau had a pretty easy gig here. For most of the episode he was in disguise which actually meant another actor had the part.
I love it when a new Paramount television season set DVD comes along. They have such a great selection in their vaults that there is something for everyone. Even if you never seen this series back in the day it is well worth getting. For those of us that enjoyed it in our younger days the show never looked better. The color has been done to perfection. It is bright, clear and shows little of the decades that have past. The audio was re-mastered for Dolby 5.1 but for the purists out there they also include the original mono track. The re-mix is very well done and does add depth to the experience. This is family entertainment that is something to have and enjoy over and over again.